Middlesbrough Council introduced a free parking scheme in a bid to revitalise the "flagging" town centre last week. Joanna Morris speaks to shoppers and traders about the move.

FREE PARKING is a good idea but will not save the town centre, say the people of Middlesbrough.

The initiative – which sees shoppers offered cheap monthly permits and two hours of free parking in all council owned car parks – could cost Middlesbrough Council more than £300,000 in lost revenue over six months.

Before launching the scheme, Middlesbrough’s mayor Ray Mallon maintained it was a risk worth taking. He said: “According to the public, the biggest barrier to them coming into the town centre is car parking charges. The only risk the council can take now is not taking a risk at all.”

At the weekend, shoppers and retailers welcomed the scheme but almost unanimously claimed that free parking was not the answer to the problems facing the town centre – which was recently described in a council report as "haemorrhaging” custom.

The majority of people canvassed believed that while free parking was a step in the right direction, more needed to be done to support local businesses, with high town centre rents and rates being pinpointed as a major issue.

Helen Swan, the proprietor of Fine Yarn, said: “Free parking is definitely good but it is not enough – if there are no shops to visit, what is the point? In the centre, rents can cost more than £75,000 a year for a small unit and that’s the biggest problem.”

Shopper Sam Briggs said: “Free parking is a great idea. I’ll be coming down to the town centre more often, even if it is just to spend money at all the closing down sales. The council does not do enough to support businesses, if they did, all these shops would not be shutting. The rates are killing the shops off.”

Venkata Syagamreddy, manager of Glamour Eyes and Nails said: “Free parking will mean more footfall and that will be good for business. But businesses need more help, the rents are terrible and even big chains like HMV are closing.

"I don’t blame the council, it is a recession. People do not have money and cannot spend so shops are closing. The government has to do more to help. The situation will not be fixed with one good idea.”